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A Special Note to My Recovering Friends Out There; We Interrupt the Regular Message…

My friends, this is going to be very short.  I fell asleep on the couch watching the World Series last night after fixing my wife’s rear brake (new housings, cable, the whole nine yards – expertly done, I might add).  All was good in my world as I drifted off to sleep.

I awoke with the Nationals in the lead and got up to head to bed.  I shut off the TV and noticed my wife sitting in the kitchen, so I went over to kiss her goodnight before heading to bed.  She was crying.  We got a gut punch of bad news last night. I can’t get into it right now, just know my wife and kids are just fine, but this one’s bad.  And it ties directly into my recovery, so I have one simple message for today.

I am a second chance recovered alcoholic.  Meaning, I was given a second chance by a judge.  He sentenced me to treatment rather than prison and while I didn’t plan on staying sober on day one, shoveling pig shit on a working recovery farm, hungover to beat the band, I became a small miracle in the first two weeks.  Delirium tremens is a bitch that way.

I asked God for a deal; if He helped me, I’d give recovery everything I had.

I’ve never slept so good.  I woke up the next day on a mission and I’ve never looked back (well, there was one glance over my shoulder but I didn’t relapse and I did survive).  After the aforementioned glance over my shoulder, I gave up everything tied to my use of drugs and alcohol.  Old friends, old places… gone.  I changed everything to stay on the right path.

I’ve written countless times about how good my life has become and I owe all of it to that bargain – and doing something with what came of it.

Recovery is a daily gift.  My life, every awesome moment (and every tough one, too) is another point in a great existence – a life of meaning, purpose, direction, and above all, fun.  I have more fun just being on the right side of the grass, pumping air that I ever dreamed possible as I dug that pitchfork into another pile of gnarly straw in that pig stall.  Just working on my wife’s brakes last night (betwixt cuss words) put a smile on my face…  I treat my gift with the respect it needs and deserves because there’s another side to me;  A dark side.

As much good as I’m capable of today, with a wrong turn, I’m capable of just as much bad – worse.  All it takes is a tiny decision to unravel everything.  One tiny thought, entertained would lead to my downfall and land me in the ground or in prison:  “I’ve been sober long enough I could control a drink or twelve.”

Entertaining that one thought is all it would take to let that thought take hold and undo everything. There’s two months, maybe, between that and a prison sentence.  Or, if I was lucky enough to stay out of prison, seven years and I’m dead from liver failure.  That’s it.  My best outcome if I drink is dead in seven years.

My happiness balances on that thin a margin.  One little thought, gnawing away at the foundation of my awesome life.

There, but for the Grace of God, go I…

Stay hungry, my friends.  Lest you get thirsty.

The Ultimate Reason I Chose to Get Sober and Fit in the First Place

I was like so many others, overeating my way to cementing a sedentary lifestyle for myself, one meal at a time…  Then came decision time.  I was young, too.  Just 32 years-old, my once furnace-hot metabolism had cooled and I was catching up on 200 pounds.  I was a 150, dripping wet, when I sobered up.  Some of that fifty pounds was needed.  150 is too skinny for a 6′ tall man, but 200 pounds is when the double-chin starts forming.

Do I get fit or fat?  Running (and eventually cycling), or video games and the couch?

First, I never knew how painful a sedentary lifestyle was until I started running.  People complain about muscle soreness with running, I did from time to time as well, but no amount of fitness I’ve tried hurt like a sedentary lifestyle.

I’ve run half-marathons (that was enough, thank you), ridden a hundred miles a day, for days on end, 60,000+ miles in my 40’s, and nothing hurt as bad as sitting on the couch.  The second worst was getting off it.  The third was continuing to choose to stay off it.

Once I got fit, though, once I learned the tricks of running, and eventually cycling, I found my own and my peace.  I also found a few missing pieces to the puzzle of my recovery.

After riding with my friends yesterday, a nice, enjoyable 18-1/2-mph, 47-mile ride with my wife and my two best riding friends, I took a nap with my wife… on the couch.  We woke up at 3 and went to watch my daughter, a high school junior, perform with Eastern Michigan University and several other high school bands, during and after the football game against Western Michigan.

Our seats weren’t in the nosebleeds, but they were high enough, on the 40-yard line.  I took each step with ease, keeping pace with my 13-year-old daughter who weighs about as much as my legs.  I wasn’t breathing heavy when we reached our seats, 28 rows up.  If my heart rate was over 80 bpm, I’d be surprised.

I went up and down those stairs a few times, just as fast, throughout the game.

Our team (I went to Eastern as a much younger lad) was down, and Western looked to be in control until the momentum shifted when EMU stopped Western and scored just before halftime.  Eastern was down 14-10 at the half.

My daughter, at halftime, was the a part of the middle peak of the M in E M U, right out front as the EMU marching band and the six-ish other marching bands present all belted out popular hip-hop tunes they’d learned just a couple of hours earlier.  I can’t describe how cool it was to see my daughter down there on the field, at the university that asked me not to come back for my junior year, playing with the marching band that I was too much of a drunk loser to play in… If any evidence was needed that I’d done well with my recovery from addiction, I got a plateful last night.

The Eastern Michigan Eagles came out of the locker room on fire, having made some needed adjustments to their game, held the momentum from just before the half, and took it to the Western Michigan Broncos.  EMU won 34 to 27 in a classic come-from-behind victory (they’d been down as much as 14-3 in the first half).  Their offense was exceptional much of the game, but their defense really picked it up in the second half.  There were fireworks and the ROTC lit off cannon blanks every time the Eagles scored (that was awesome).

For the post-game show, my daughter’s school was chosen to perform their entire show on the big stage.  Many fans stayed to watch along with the EMU marching band.  And the Swartz Creek Dragon marching band nailed it.  Their best performance of the year.

27 years ago, I chose to accept my alcoholism and recover from it.  17 years ago, I chose to accept that, after I’d quit smoking, I loved food and had to get off my tukus and get fit.  As it does so often nowadays, all of that awesomeness came together and I got to see why I went to all of that trouble to live a clean, healthy life in the first place.

I could easily look at what I don’t have in life.  I could concentrate on where I fail, and I do every day (small failures, but failures nonetheless).  I could look at where life fails me, at everything that “isn’t fair”.  I could choose to ball up my recovery and flush it for a case of beer and a momentary escape (I never drank half-assed – if I’m going to give up and drink, even hypothetically, I’m gonna do it right).  Better, I could have given up everything that’s been good in my life decades ago, because “I’m probably not a drunk, it was just bad luck”…

I could have taken all of my misery back and I’d never have experienced what I did last yesterday.

I choose to live the way I do because being me is awesome.

Sorting Out the Difference In Pain Related to Cycling; How I Tell the Difference Between Fit or Fitness

My wife had been experiencing some pain related to cycling.  She’d switched from her normal road/triathlon bike to her gravel bike – she’s technically riding both, probably a little more on the road bike, but not by much.

Now, normally we’d have the gravel bike set up fairly close to the road bike*, but in my wife’s case, she’s got a mix-use road and triathlon bike, so the geometry is very different between the two.  In my case, the road bikes are really close and the gravel bike is pretty close.  Anyway, immediately my wife thinks she needs to start tinkering with her bikes’ setups.  This saddle needs to be moved back, the other one forward and down…  Folks, that’s a tough spot for me to be in right there, because I tinker with my bikes a lot, and she knows this.  This is different from tinkering, though, and took me a day to kick it around and figure out how to respond, because I didn’t think the issue was her setup.  See, just the week before, she’d been raving about how comfortable the road/tri bike was, how she liked the new wheels, and how “right” everything was.  You just don’t go from being content to having to change the saddle height and location in a week.  I had to gently let her onto the idea that it’d be better to ride through this one.

And I knew this because I do it all the time.

It took tens of thousands of miles and experience to understand what I can ride through and when something’s wrong with a bike’s setup.  The pains are different and in very specific and recurring places if the setup is wrong – and in the case of the saddle’s fore/aft location on the seat post, if the saddle’s too far forward all of a sudden (because you made a mistake putting it back, ahem), it’ll sap your power enough you’ll be crushed and dropped off the back on a long ride.  Yes, that did happen to me on a hundred miler a few years back.  It did suck – and it was quite humbling when I discovered what I’d done.

So, fit vs. fitness…

Fit problems that cause pain are recurring and localized.  In other words, if I’ve got a fit problem, the pain related will be a nagging, stationary pain.  Say my saddle is too high.  This will cause a few posterior problems, but typically on the sides, where my hip bones hit the saddle while I’m pedaling, from the pelvis rocking back and forth so the feet can reach the pedals.  It’s not the sit bones, either, which would be further back.  Too high will also, likely, cause back pain if left alone too long.  How about a saddle that’s too low?  Pain in the back of the knee is generally the first thing you’ll notice that’s wrong… And there are dozens of other pains and causes, that range from a sore neck (handlebar too low), to numb hands (handlebar too high or possibly too close).  Too much reach, if you’re constantly sitting on the horn of the saddle, or you ride on the bar tops more than the hoods and drops.  The point is, it’s been my experience that we’ll have the same pain and problems every time we ride the bike.

My favorite example is the saddle that came with my 5200.  The original saddle was big, bulky, heavy and 155mm wide.  Unfortunately, my sit bones are about 142mm apart (I ride, comfortably on a 143mm Specialized Romin and a phenomenally comfortable 138mm Bontrager Montrose Pro), so as soon as I started riding the bike, I found myself with severe hamstring issues.  I thought it was due to running, but after some time of cycling and running, the issues came back immediately during my first ride back after some couch time.  I had a new saddle within 24 hours.

Now, that first ride back, I could feel the pressure on the sides of my groin, but nothing in the sit bones (because the saddle was so wide, I wasn’t sitting on the sit bones).  That first ride back, the sides flared up something nasty, and I could feel the pain radiate to my hamstrings, and that’s how I knew what was up.  Localized and recurring.

More elusive are the random pains.  These are the pains I ride through.  I will get the odd sore neck or shoulder… maybe a sore knee or ankle.  That I know of, you can’t ride the amount of miles I put in, at the speed I do, and not have a few pains flare up now and again.  It just comes with the exercise.  For these, I take a Tylenol in the morning and a bike ride in the afternoon.  That usually does the trick.  For those elusive, mobile pains, I ride through them until they become a bigger issue.  I don’t change anything on the bike’s setup for these.  They’ve always gone away with time – usually a matter of hours, no more than a day or two.

I’ve built a vast set of experiences in regard to cycling in running from which to pull if I experience something that just doesn’t feel quite right.  Over 60,000 miles and the only time I’ve taken time off the bike for an injury was the wide saddle issue. Still, I’m not (near) always right.  If I run into a pain that I haven’t experienced or already ridden through, that I just can’t put my finger on, I head to the bike shop to consult with the owner and a couple of the mechanics I trust.  I do this before I change anything on the bike, because I’ve been known to make the wrong correction a time or two.  And I know enough, if the pain doesn’t subside after all of that, to go see a doctor.

*I wrote “fairly” close when referring to the setups of the gravel and road bike because quite often the two aren’t exact.  For instance, I purposely have my gravel bike set up to promote a more relaxed, upright posture.  I do this so I can better see bumps and potholes coming because anyone who knows anything about dirt road riding in Michigan, knows to hold on, ’cause it’s gonna get bumpy.  My road bikes, on the other hand, are mainly about speed and aerodynamics.

Why people new to recovery feel like they are missing out when a new drink is invented

I read a post the other day from a fellow recovering drunk who was lamenting, I think it was, a new craft beer that had been released.  I quit long enough ago craft beer was made by my buddy’s dad in the garage and tasted like… well, really not good.  The craft beer of today wasn’t even a glimmer in someone’s eye yet.  Hell, I quit before Zima and slightly after ICE beer.

It’s been a long time since I felt I missed out on a new drink.  Hard lemonade, hard cider, hard seltzer water… and there is a very simple explanation for this;  I don’t like prison more than I wish I could have a Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy.  Well, let’s put this into proper context; I don’t like prison more than I wish I could have 24 Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandies.  You know what I’m getting at?

I default straight to the misery, and that’s why I don’t miss out.  The trouble for newly recovered alcoholics is the new misery of quitting can tend to be only slightly less miserable than drinking.  Especially if one is trying to white knuckle it.  Blur the lines too much and drinking can win out.  For someone like me, who continually works a recovery program and keeps a vivid memory of what my drinking misery was really like, it’s easy to pass because my life, with all its fleas, is awesome.

And awesome is good.  Prison?  Not so much.

And that’s why I ride a bicycle… whilst riding a bicycle.

And so it finally was, a spring day on which to ride, and on a Sunday no less….

We rolled out at 9 am, under partly cloudy skies and in just two light layers and a vest for me.  It was 37° (that’s 3 C) but it felt like a balmy spring morning next to the conditions we’ve grown used to riding in.  It was nice enough I had my Venge out, and Mrs. Bgddy, her Alias.  It was our first go at “Sunday Funday”…  See, my buddy, Mike has had a tough time recovering from heart surgery.  Basically, his ticker sucks, so we’re trying to give him a ride once a week where he doesn’t have to worry about the pace.  Rather than our usual pace near 20-mph, we’re keeping the goal around 18 – something he can keep up with and still enjoy himself – and we’ve got quite a few in our group who are looking forward to the change as well.

So off we went, dead into the wind, on our way out to Shiatown and Vernon.  The day just kept getting better as we went.  What was supposed to be an overcast morning turned into full sunshine as the clouds lost the battle to the spring sun.  In the process, it warmed up to a glorious 50° (close to normal, actually).  We ended up with one of those mornings that makes you grateful to have cycling as a hobby.  We added a few miles and a few there until we had our fill.

And that’s when we came to an intersection and saw an aging fella in a pickup truck.  Morbidly obese, pasty skin… he didn’t look good at all.  I often say I want to be mobile when I’m 80, but that’s not quite true.  I want to be mobile when I hit 95, and that’s why I ride a bike.  The guy in the pickup wasn’t but ten years older than me and he didn’t have much time left.

My friends, I ride a bicycle because at 48, I’m just getting started in the good life and I want it to last for a long time.  That’s why I ride a bike.  Well, that and bikes are cool.

New Study: Sleep is Good, But Let’s Not Overdo It…

I just read a report on a new study that shows some serious adverse effects of getting too much sleep.

The researchers collected data from over 116,000 people who lived in 21 different countries around the world. They followed them for eight years and found that those who slept more than eight hours a night were more likely to experience a cardiovascular disease or death.

To be exact, if the participants in the study slept eight to nine hours, the increased risk was 5 percent. That’s not a huge increase, but the risk increases drastically from there. For people who slept nine to 10 hours a night or more than 10 hours a night, the risk jumped to 17 percent and 41 percent, respectively.

And naps?

It seems that naps are great, but only if you slept less than six hours the night before.

Friends, I’ve been a five to seven hours a night guy for decades. Decades. And for decades I wondered if I was slowly killing myself because I wasn’t hitting that magic eight. So the six to eight hours recommended in the study is a relief. At least I’m close.

As the report concluded, everything in moderation, my friends. Even sleep.

Perhaps the Best Winter Miles Yet this Year…

We were set to roll at 8am. It was chilly out, near freezing, but it wasn’t too horrible, either. My buddy, Mike dropped off a pair of ear muffs for me the other day, and I was stoked to brake them in. For those not in the know, earmuffs that wrap behind the neck are the best thing since sliced bread for riding in the cold.

So I got the gravel bikes ready and the water bottles situated. I ate and showered and we bundled up to roll.

The first mile was cool, but with a tailwind, we warmed up pretty quickly. We were running between 18 & 20-mph, pretty fair for the gravel bikes, even on the pavement – and we were pedaling easy. After eight-ish miles, we headed south with a crosswind…

We had started out in a single-file pace line, but doubled up so we could talk. We were on a mission to take it easy as Mike, my heart diseased cycling buddy was with us. His heart is messed up and there really isn’t a fix. He’ll be fitted soon for a defibrillator so if he kicks out on us, at least it’ll zap is @$$ back.

We laughed and told stories, seven friends, catching up on the last several week’s happenings from being stuck inside on the hamster wheels (cycling trainers).

There’s absolutely something great to be said for speed and those fast 23-mph Tuesday nights… but that was fun!

We ended up with a little more than 23 miles in an hour and a half. I had a smile on my face all day. And we’re doing it again this morning – and it’s 15° (7 C) warmer! It’s going to feel like spring! And we decided to roll with the tandem!